Friend of HT Andrew Bruss compares two versions of a Stones’ classic..
The Rolling Stones’ magnum opus, Exile On Main Street, has recently been remastered, and re-released with an additional disc of B-sides, highlighted by an early outtake of fan-favorite, Loving Cup. Ben Ratliff of The New York Times called this outtake amongst the best tracks the Stones ever recorded, and said it was superior to the studio-cut Stones fans have spent nearly four decades appreciating. While this B-side is an amazing track, featuring the unmastered grit and grime you’d expect from an early live show, there are arguments for and against Ratliff’s bold assertion.
The most obvious difference is in the piano intro performed by Nicky Hopkins. On the studio cut, this intro is brief, and to the point, segueing right into Jagger’s affirmation that he’s “the man on the mountain,” asking you to “come on up.” On the B-side, the piano intro is sullied by its added length, and slower tempo. The piano intro on the studio cut and B-side both clock in at around 15 seconds, but the slower tempo on the latter gives the listener an impression that the B-side is considerably longer and the perception of this delay in getting to the vocals makes it less of an intro and more of a segment of its own. This effectively weakens the effectiveness of the “less is more” philosophy the Stones mastered on tracks like Sweet Virginia and Rip This Joint.
Mick Jagger’s vocals on any Stones track are always amongst the most definable characteristics, and on both takes of Loving Cup, this proves to be no exception. Although the vocal track on the B-side is generally more emotive, incorporating more vibrato, it proves inferior to the original. One of the highest-energy moments on Exile is Jagger’s lyrical burst, “gimmie little drink,” and on the B-side, he takes his time to get to that sense of urgency, deflating the effectiveness of the lyrics.
READ ON for more of Andrew’s Loving Cup analysis…
One of the hardest instruments to analyze in this debate is the drumming of Charlie Watts. Although his stage presence is most reminiscent of a rhythm-keeping catatonic, Watts will forever be named alongside drummers like Keith Moon, John “Bonzo” Bonham and Ringo Starr as one of the most effective drummers in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. Watts makes his contribution on the B-side known much earlier on, injecting some kick-drum into the piano intro, whereas on the studio-cut, Watts’ drums don’t make a peep until after the first verse. However, on the studio cut, their early absence is made up for by the single best fill on the album. Again, as Jagger wails, “gimmie little drink from your loving cup,” Watts comes in with a tom-tom heavy fill that perfectly accompanies the rhythm and energy of Jagger’s chorus. Between A+ drum fills, Watts goes back into a more simplistic drum line, one that makes the power of his verse-into-chorus drum fills its extra power.
However, although his trademark studio-version drum fill is missing from the B-side, the second half of the latter includes some heavy-hitting drum rolls that give his the originals verse-to-chorus fill a real run for its money. Untrained ears might even think Watts was using a double kick drum on the B-side
The horn section on the studio cut is entirely absent from the B-side, something that may be missed by some, but could also be argued to draw greater attention to the five-piece itself.
The fact that the B-side is unmastered can easily be seen as a plus, as it adds to the humid grit that Exile is known for. The big question left to be asked is which version has the superior guitar licks? Although the studio cut is refined, featuring both acoustic and electric guitars, the B-side offers some new leads that really add something to the final product. The lead guitar bends a few notes on cue as Jagger first comes in with lyrics, and throughout the whole b-side, the lead guitar lines play a role of a parallel vocalist, articulating notes that flow alongside the vocal track like a duet.
On a first listen, the slower tempo and less aggressive vocals can sour longtime Exile fans, but with every listen, the Loving Cup B-side showcases more and more unique attributes that listeners are likely to miss the first time around. Needless to say, the B-side is a tune that is guaranteed to build on any fan of the studio cut. Which track has the better vocals? And which take has the superior performance from Watts? Both of these questions have no clear answer and are likely to be debated endlessly. What is not debatable is that regardless of your preference between the two versions, the recent introduction of Loving Cup’s B-side undeniably adds to the conversation. Whether you give it a thumbs up, or down, this latest version of Loving Cup provides another round of ammunition for Stones’ fans that’ve spent the last few decades dissecting every note performed on Exile On Main Street.
Which track do you like better? Place your vote…